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Why Are You Bad At Pinball? (4 Ways How To Play Better)

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You’ve listened to “Pinball Wizard” thousands of times. You practice hitting the flippers just at the right time, even going so far as to look up YouTube videos to try to see what you’re doing wrong. And yet, you can’t seem to get a game to happen for more than three minutes.

Why am I so bad at pinball? A lack of pinball skill often boils down to one of four main reasons. These reasons include:

  • No practice
  • Feeling nervous or distracted
  • Focusing on the wrong thing
  • Choosing a bad game

Most people who struggle with pinball can improve their game greatly by simply adjusting the way they look at the game, the attitude they play with, or even just practicing when they can. Our guide will give you quick fixes to help you improve your game as fast as possible. 

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Why Am I So Bad At Pinball? 

Pinball is one of those few games that people either love or hate. It’s a game where people either take to it naturally or end up struggling with it for years. In most cases, the issues people have with pinball are mental. 

Though there is a lightly physical element to pinball, most of the game remains a mental struggle. If you’re like most people, learning to become great at pinball means that you’re going to have to learn the right mindset. 

The Role Of Practice In Pinball

Just like with any other arcade game, pinball takes a lot of practice to nail down. If you’re brand new to the game, you can’t expect to be an expert right off the bat. Take your time, spend a couple of months playing at an “open play arcade,” and you’ll likely see improvement. 

Pinball isn’t as common as it used to be. You actually have to go to specialty arcades to find a machine most of the time, and that means that getting practice isn’t as easy as it once was. This is the most common reason why people are bad at pinball: not actually having the opportunity to practice the game. 

Nervousness And Distraction In Pinball

Did you ever notice how hard it is to keep your hands steady when you see the ball drifting toward the bottom of the pinball machine? Did you ever notice how many bells and whistles pinball machines have? That’s by design; suspense and distraction make it hard to keep your eyes on the prize. 

Pinball machines are designed to play tricks with people’s minds. How successful they are in messing with a player’s mind makes a huge difference in how long (or short) a game will be.

Why Being Nervous Psyches Out Pinball Players

Nervousness is something most pinball players struggle with, especially when they’re first giving the game a try. When you’re on edge and worried about losing the game, it’s easy to make these rookie mistakes:

  • Hitting flippers too early. You see the ball rolling towards the gutter; you want to save them, and OH! When you hit the flippers, it’s too early, knocking the ball into the gutter.
  • Hitting flippers too frequently. Believe it or not, hitting flippers to frequently can actually reduce your chances of keeping the ball up in the air.
  • Freezing up. If you’re too nervous, you might even shut down. Knowing what is the best move to take is vital to keeping the ball alive so if you freeze up, even for a second, you will lose your edge.

How Distraction Wrecks Your Game

While being nervous can cause a litany of bad moves, distraction’s dangers are fairly simple. When you’re too distracted by all the lights and noise, it’s normal to forget that you need to keep your eye on the ball. This, in turn, causes you to miss your shot.

It isn’t just the lights and sounds that distract you either. Normally when you play you will have friends or family nearby cheering (or jeering). That adds an extra layer of distraction that makes it even a little harder to play a good game.  

How To Fix Your Nerves While You’re Playing Pinball

If you’re feeling your nerves get the best of you, the easiest way to regain control is to simply take a deep breath and focus on the ball. If you’re really struggling, keep an eye on the gutter. There’s no need to panic here; it’s just a game. 

While playing, focus on hitting the flippers just as they get to the center of the flipper or close to the tip. This ensures that you get some distance with your shots and that your work isn’t all in vain. 

I always seem to get really nervous thinking that the ball is going to go down the middle so I will panic and start bumping the table or hitting the flippers frantically. This of course doesn’t help at all and will often make me miss the shot that I would have made if I didn’t panic. 

Not Focusing On The Right Thing

Pinball is a game of focus. As long as you keep your eyes on the ball and keep your hands ready to hit it upwards, you should be reasonably good at it. Unfortunately, we tend to forget that when there are people watching, when the lights go crazy, or when a trick shot seems tempting. 

This is all by design. Pinball game “extras” are made to encourage risky moves from players or to distract players from keeping the ball in play. Trick shots, light-up games, and other “strategy” tricks usually cause more harm than good. 

How to Focus on The Pinball Game Better

Learning what to focus on is just as important as learning how to practice your skill set. Your focus, if you want to become great, should first be on keeping the ball in action. Everything else should be secondary. 

If you’re having a hard time, follow these tips below:

  • Don’t look at your score until after your ball sinks. Scores can be very distracting and can encourage risky decisions.
  • Forget about trick shots. If you keep your ball in play long enough, you’ll eventually make the shots or light up all the targets. That’s just probability, and while it’s not glamorous, it works.
  • If you’re easily distracted, wear headphones. Headphones or earplugs can help remove the distraction of loud noises and bangs from the machine.
  • Focus on the bottom half of the game. You cannot control anything that happens in the top half of a pinball machine. It’s best to just follow the ball and then get into “game mode” when it gets close to a flipper or a gutter. This is probably the hardest advice to follow as we just naturally want to see what is happening but avoiding doing that can help take your skills to the next level.

The Pinball Wizard 

If you remember the lyrics to “Pinball Wizard,” the kid the band was talking about was “dumb, deaf, and blind.” The reason why he was so good was that he had limited distractions around him due to his disabilities. For that “wizard,” it was all about feeling the pinball and hitting it when he felt it coming close. 

That song has a lot of truth to the best strategies on pinball. It was never about trick shots; it was all about just focusing and learning how to time your hits. It’s food for thought, isn’t it? 

Are You Playing A Bad Pinball Game?

Though the silver ball is generally the same from machine to machine, not all pinball games are equal in terms of quality. Some are simply far more challenging than others. Others are even downright unfair when it comes to difficulty. 

Extremely old-school pinball machines are notorious for being difficult or even rigged to cause a loss within minutes. If you’re playing on a machine made prior to 1960, chances are very high that you really aren’t that bad at pinball. You might just be hitting a rigged game!

How To Tell if your Machine is Bad

If you are failing at pinball despite practice and focus, you might actually be playing a “bad game.” The signs below suggest that your machine is just there to eat up your coins:

  • The machine is very old. Machines made prior to the 1960s (and even during that decade) are known for being exceptionally difficult to play and are prone to rigging.
  • When you hit the flippers, they don’t always work. You are not going to win on a broken game!
  • There’s a lot of space on the pinball board. A good rule of thumb is to judge a pinball game’s difficulty by the amount of space (or lack of widgets) you see on the board.
  • There’s a noticeable gap at the pinball gutter. An extremely wide gutter means that your ability to win a game won’t be due to skill, but rather, to luck.

When in doubt, just switch machines. You’d be surprised at what a difference it can make. 

How To Get Better At Pinball

So now that you know why you might be struggling with your pinball game the next step is to figure out how to fix it. Of course, there are many different things that you can do to help improve your game but what are the most important ones?

The best ways to get better at pinball are:

  • Practice
  • Watch game tutorials
  • Learn geometry
  • Pay attention the entire game

These are just a few of the ways that you can improve how well you do in pinball. I will go into more detail about each of them down below.

1. Practice

As I mentioned earlier not practicing is one major reason why you could be bad at pinball. So to get better you will want to practice a lot. Now if you have to go to a pinball arcade to practice it might not make a whole lot of sense to do it regularly.

However, if you have a pinball machine in your game room then practicing is not only important but something that you can do quite easily.

Some of the most important things that you should practice regularly to improve your pinball game are:

  • Nudging the table (learn how much you can hit the table without getting tilt warnings)
  • How to shoot the ball (how you launch the ball can set the tone for the whole game)
  • Hitting a specific ramp (getting your ball to go up a certain ramp can give you extra points, a multiball, and more)
  • Bounce pass (practice passing the ball from your left flipper to your right flipper)
  • A death save (practice letting your ball go down the outlane and then bumping the table at the right time to save it)
  • Drop catch (performing a live catch and cradling the ball with your flipper can make hitting the perfect shot much easier. You can also flip the ball to the opposite flipper and trap it there to shoot at ramps on the other side.)

All of these are basic skills that you need to learn if you want to become an excellent pinball player. Knowing these and other skills will allow your skills to start gaining momentum and as you get better your scores will go higher and higher.

2. Watch Pinball Game Tutorials

There are many different pinball machines made for beginner, intermediate, or expert players. All of these tables have different rules, bonus points, and risky shots that you should learn about.

The easiest way to be able to increase your high score is to watch a tutorial about the specific pinball machine that you are playing. This is especially important if it is a new pinball machine that you have never played on before.

Knowing which ramps give you what bonuses, the perfect routine to follow to get multiball, where your next shot should go, etc. will all make you better at the game.

Unless your pinball machine is brand new there is likely a walk-through tutorial available on Youtube that will show you exactly what you need to do to get as many points as possible. If a video walk-through isn’t available you can also read the manufacturer’s manual to try and determine what ramps and buttons will give you the most points.

3. Learn Geometry

Okay, so you don’t have to actually study geometry to get really good at pinball but it does help. Knowing exactly when and how hard to push the flipper button depending on where the ball is on the flipper could mean the difference between you hitting the flashing light and getting a bonus or accidentally draining the ball down the right side or middle.

With lots of practice (as mentioned earlier), you will start to pick up on exactly where the ball needs to be and how hard you need to slap it to get it to go in the right spot. But learning a bit of geometry and angles and knowing where the ball will bounce if you are off can save many games when you make a mistake.

4. Pay Attention The Entire Game

This might be one of the most difficult parts of playing a pinball game. There are tons of distractions whether you are playing at home or at pinball tournaments. The flashing lights and frantic sounds that the pinball machine produce make it difficult to always pay attention to the ball.

But if you want to rack up a new high score then you have to pay attention at every single point of the game.

If you are playing with friends and want to beat them don’t look around to see who noticed your amazing shot as the ball could easily go down in that one second you aren’t paying attention. Not only do you have to pay attention at all times but to every single ball that you play.

I can’t tell you how many times I have gotten a horrible score on my first few balls and then on the last one come all the way back to beat my friend’s score. If I would have given up or stopped paying attention because it was hopeless I never would have beaten them!

As soon as you launch that ball (with the plunger or start button) it will be constantly in motion. So always be ready with your flippers to hit it as needed and don’t take your eyes off the ball. When your ball eventually goes down you can take a moment to gloat or talk about that amazing shot but don’t do it while you are playing.


Need Some More Help?

Do you need some help taking your game to the next level? Check out this video below from Home Leisure that will help improve your game.


I hope these simple steps have helped you realize that upping your game is not only possible but it isn’t that far off. It doesn’t require you to be an athlete or to have pinpoint accuracy. It just requires you to eliminate distractions, focus on the ball, and practice practice practice!